The Potts Valley Rail-Trail is built upon an abandoned corridor of the Norfolk and Western Branch rail line. Called the Potts Valley Branch, it operated between 1909 and 1932 and was built to haul iron ore, then timber, out of the lush mountain region. Much of the 5-mile rail-trail lies within the George Washington and Jefferson national forests, while a small portion is on a private property right-of-way. Along the trail you will find interpretive signs about Potts Valley’s history as well as benches to stop and take in the scenery or the quiet solitude of the forest.
The southwest trail head lies a few hundred yards from the Eastern Continental Divide, which at that location separates the headwaters of Stony Creek (a New River tributary) and Potts Creek (a James River tributary). Mountain ridges on each side of the valley trail reach elevations of between 3,700 and 4,100 feet, and the trail overlooks the South Fork of Potts Creek, a brook trout stream.
The trail head begins in West Virginia, just shy of the border with Virginia, on State Secondary Route 17 (Waiteville Road). The trail traverses a forest of mixed pine and hardwood, with rhododendron in the understory. Because it was a former railroad grade, the slopes along the Potts Valley Rail-Trail are gentle. Beginning at the southwest trail head, you will follow the border of the Mountain Lake Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in the Jefferson National Forest.
Take one of the side trails and view the handiwork of stone masons, who carved culverts for the forest’s ubiquitous streams to run underneath the former rail line. At about the 3-mile point, you arrive at the site of the former Crosier trestle. The wooden bridge, once 98 feet tall and 600 feet long, carried trains across the stream. Unfortunately, rebuilding it for foot traffic was unfeasible, so the rail-trail detours here down slope away from the rail bed. Notice the hand-cut stone pillars that once supported the railroad bridge.
About 0.75 mile beyond Crosier Branch (a stream you must cross), the trail enters private property and continues for another 0.5 mile to the northwest trail head. A bench just before the trail head provides a great location for enjoying the pastoral scenery. The trail ends about a mile or so above Waiteville, but if you continue on (following public roads), you come across the old Waiteville depot then the Paint Bank, another former depot (now a lodge). In the nearby brick building, you’ll find a general store and restaurant.
Mountain bikers can do a loop ride by using State Secondary Route 17 (Waiteville Road) and State Secondary Route 15/5 (Rays Siding Road) to reach the trail heads of the Potts Valley Rail.